• The smell of bread makes 89% of people happy and researchers from The University College Dublin explain why

  • Milk, cheese, cooked spaghetti, flint and green olive with a glass of champagne. You wouldn’t expect to find these in one meal, but these are all flavour notes that help make up the aroma of bread

  • A survey shows that our favourite memory associated with bread involves our mums

For National Bread Week (11-17 September) new research* shows that 89 per cent of people say the smell of bread makes them happy and 63 per cent say it evokes happy memories.

To celebrate National Bread Week, scientists at The University College Dublin (UCD) Institute of Food & Health, have explored the science behind the smell of bread and what makes people love it**.

According to UCD’s Dr Amalia Scannell and her team of researchers, who conducted a review into what it is we love about bread and in particular its aroma, a loaf of bread contains over 540 distinct volatile compounds, although less than 20 are believed to contribute to the aroma of bread. These compounds provide eight to 12 key aroma notes which together create the smell of bread. The combination of these aroma notes may surprise you. Alongside compounds which give off a milky, buttery and malty flavour and aroma, are the more unusual cooked spaghetti, flint, green olive, grapefruit and baked onions. In particular, Kalanty’s *** analysis identified the following 12 key aromas in a typical loaf of bread. (these vary depending on the type of loaf):

  1. Milk, butter, diacetyl (popcorn butter)

  2. Green apple, grapefruit, lemon, vinegar

  3. Fresh cheese, buttermilk, plain yogurt, aged cheese

  4. Baked onions, dark beer, baked chestnut, cheese gratin

  5. Fig, raisin, stewed fruit

  6. French roast coffee beans, vanilla bean, aged balsamic vinegar

  7. Malty, popped grains, nutty

  8. Butterscotch, toffee, chocolate, molasses

  9. Raw starch, raw green beans, pea shoots, straw, dry yeast

  10. Cooked spaghetti, steamed potatoes, cooked oatmeal, yeasty champagne

  11. Cooked wholegrains, cooked dried beans, green olive, flint, slate, mineral

  12. Beer, grapefruit pith, ‘turned’ red wine, sherry

Interestingly, the key aroma compounds in bread are not those present at high levels, but are actually present in very low levels in the food. They are extremely potent which is why they are characteristic of the bread.

So why do we love the smell of freshly baked bread? According to UCD, this is due to its ability to evoke ‘odour-cued’ memories. These types of memories tend to be older memories from the first decade of life, whereas memories associated with verbal or visual information arise from early adulthood. A survey of 1,000 people, which accompanied the scientific review and focus groups conducted by UCD, showed that the most popular favourite memory evoked by the smell of bread involved the word mother or mum (29%). One in five memories mentioned the term childhood (20%) and 16 per cent featured the word home. Grandparents also featured heavily with 16 per cent of memories featuring them.

Dr Amalia Scannel who led the research project at UCD said: “Bread is such a powerful trigger largely due to brain anatomy. Incoming smells are first processed by the olfactory bulb, which starts inside the nose and runs along the bottom of the brain. The olfactory bulb has direct connections to the two brain areas that are strongly implicated in emotion and memory. Bread is such a staple food in the diet of most populations and will have featured heavily in most people’s childhoods, which is why it is one of those smells that evokes such strong memories, particularly of family, childhood and comfort.”

The survey for National Bread Week showed that bread remains a staple in the Irish diet with a third (33%) eating bread every day. People think bread is most essential for dipping into soup (58%), breakfast (53%), lunch (48%) and with bacon (35%). 65 per cent say they are a proud bread lover and a further 1 in 10 admit to being a secret bread lover.